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Saturday, September 03, 2011

A funny thing happened on the way to the present...

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Stylized image of Winston Churchill, originally from Wikipedia. Image hosting by Photobucket. It is often said that history is written by the victors. To be precise, Winston Churchill said that, or so it is popularly believed – there seems to be some dispute over this, as Walski discovered.

But assuming Churchill was the one who said it, the world today remembers the man as a successful war-time Prime Minister of Great Britain. In fact, many consider Winston Churchill to be one of history’s most successful wartime leaders.

The question is, though, if the Allies had not won the war in Europe, and Hitler had triumphed instead, would Churchill be remembered the same way today?

The answer: most probably not. In all likelihood he might be known as The Butcher of Hamburg, or some other nasty epithet like that (over 40,000 civilian deaths were documented in that bombing, by the way).

Walski, while in school, was never too interested in history, because he felt that it was boring. His interest in history emerged many, many years later when he discovered that the subject of history is much more than just important dates, people and places. What makes history interesting is the why and how.

And the truth is that there are many versions of why and how.

History, as it turns out, is very much a matter of perspective, apart from dates, people and places. And the popular perspective, as it turns out, really depends on who the victors are. When someone challenges the popular and official historical perspective of the victors, like what Mat Sabu did recently, feathers get ruffled, emotions stoked, and accusations of being a communist sympathizer emerge.
(inconvenient historical perspectives, and more, in the full post)

So, what was it that PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu (more popularly known as Mat Sabu) said that ruffled UMNO feathers to the point of butt-hurt? Apparently, it is this:

For your information, is an unrepentantly pro-UMNO site (and part of the UMBecile network of sycophantic blogs), and so it’s no surprise that the communism context was added, despite the fact that communists or communism were never once mentioned. The key point Mat Sabu makes in the clip above – the history of our nation’s independence is seen very much from a British-friendly perspective, painting those who really fought against the British in bad light.

Today, the official view of this history is that UMNO and its Alliance partners were the sole champions of Malayan independence, with other contributors frequently left unmentioned, and quite often, even maligned.

In fact, just about everything Mat Sabu said in the video clip is factual:

  • the Bukit Kepong police station was a colonial British police station
  • the police officers were in the employ of the colonial British police force (this was in 1950)
  • Tok Janggut went against the British (over tax imposed, if not mistaken), and later declared a traitor by the then Kelantan Sultan, after British instigation
  • only those in the service of (or friendly to) the British colonial government were considered legitimate fighters for independence, while many others who were outright against the British colonialists and what the colonialists wanted, were labeled as terrorists and traitors

Walski wouldn’t go as far as to say, though, that the history of our independence is one big lie. He will agree that much of the popular history of that period is seen only from one perspective – that of UMNO’s, which in turn is a version of history that is very much British colonial-friendly.

Blogger Sakmongkol AK47 (himself an UMNO member and former Pahang state assemblyman) opines why the furor from all and sundry within UMNO over Mat Sabu’s remarks.

Why is UMNO concerned? I have touched on this slightly in my preceding article when I mentioned that PKMM was formed in 1945, one year earlier than UMNO. PKMM was the first Malay political party to clearly state Independence as its main vocation and raison d'être.

What is then alarming about Mat Sabu’s faux pas is the fear that it may lead to a widespread revision of history. If it snowballs into a widespread revision of history, then UMNO’s actual role MAY itself be diminished and it will no longer enjoy an unchallenged and monopolistic place in our nation’s history. Politically it will also mean that UMNO will find it increasingly difficult to claim absolute legitimacy as the nation’s only political force to have fought for MERDEKA. Its own heroes will be brought down to size.

(source: Sakmongkol AK47)

The story of Malaya's independence from the British is often times presented as a vanilla-flavored historical garden path. In truth, the whole story is a lot more colorful and closer resembles a garden maze, with numerous other players and factors involved, many of the paths leading to eventual dead ends. But these dead ends – primarily due to crackdowns by the British – are important, if we are to have a more holistic view of our nation’s history.

There is absolutely no dispute with the fact that UMNO and its Alliance partners played a role. The dispute is in the assertion that only they had a role to play. And why this assertion?

The answer, perhaps, lies in another quote, penned by a different man (emphasis by myAsylum):

'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'
(source: Wikiquote)

The man was none other than George Orwell, and the book he authored, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

So yeah, “official history” can not be challenged, because it challenges the very position of the status quo, and how it got there. That’s the narrow conservative view, at least. And if you were to ask Walski, the mainstream is slowly but surely becoming narrow conservative as the years flow by.

Funny thing history – you can’t change what happened, but it sure as heck makes a difference from whose perspective the story is told...